I am currently serving as an advisor to a small accounting and tax practice to help them “go paperless.” They know they need to change the way they process their engagements, but they aren’t really sure why and they definitely don’t know how. This is a very common scenario these days. We are in the midst of an unavoidable transition in how CPA firms get their work done and deliver their client services. Many firms have moved well down this path, past the heavy lifting of “change” and are appreciating the benefits of leveraging technology to get their work done. On the other hand, there are a substantial number of small firms and sole practitioners who simply have not been able to dedicate the time and resources necessary to focus on using technology to increase efficiency and productivity. As the classic saying goes, they are too busy working in the business and not working on the business.
The big deal in accounting firm technology for the past ten years has been “going paperless”, driving paper out of the processes and focusing on doing everything online. One of the challenges in making this transition is that most practitioners like working with paper. They are comfortable with it, they identify with it, and they know how to work with it. So they have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the benefits of transitioning to paperless workflows is worth the pain of the change. If you don’t believe in the value of the alternative approach, you will unlikely have a successful transition.
Our approach in advising CPA firms in this area is to articulate the value proposition of “going digital”, which is another way to refer to the process of “going paperless.” We do not have the space here to articulate all of the benefits of going digital, trust me, there are many. The main benefit is that if you can structure your workflows to capture, process, store and disseminate all of your data and information in digital format, you open up a whole new world of opportunity to maximize efficiency and profitability, provide more relevant and innovative client services and increase the appeal of your firm to the quality professionals you want to join your team. Looking out even further, going digital will directly increase the value of your firm from the perspective of your succession plan.
A big part of the challenge with making this transformation is in understanding what to do and how to go about it. In our book; Ten Steps to a Digital Practice in the Cloud, we articulate ten key initiatives that you need to complete to become a fully digital practice. These initiatives include moving your server infrastructure to the cloud, outfitting your professional staff with the “CPA technology toolkit”, implementing a document management system, workflow application and client portal and more.
Download the complimentary Excerpt from Chapter 2, which covers the Strategic View of IT Model – Infrastructure, Software Applications, Business Processes, Staff and Clients
Nicole M. Ksiazek,
CPA Senior Manager,
Fesnak & Associates, LLP
NEW YORK (November 14, 2012) –Almost two years ago, the Financial Management Outsourcing group of Fesnak and Associates, LLP (www.fesnak.com) was tasked with the project of identifying a software platform that would achieve our shared services vision and satisfy the needs of our current and future clients. This project led us to “the cloud.”
As with any project, identifying the platform was only the first step. Our next step was developing standard, repeatable processes and best practices for clients who would be on this platform. While we are a full-service firm, and audit, tax and financial management processes are very familiar to us, this was a new arena.
CPA’s and their firms are very fortunate that CPA2Biz has been providing workshops and conferences that are helping them to take these steps. I encourage you to learn more and to utilize the resources that have been provided especially for you at the Digital CPA Cloud User Conference.
Partner & Co-Founder
NEW YORK (Oct. 22, 2012) –Generational differences (and similarities). Trends in learning. Implementing great ideas. These are the three change management ideas that I’ve been asked to facilitate sessions on at the inaugural Digital CPA 2012 CPA2Biz Cloud User Conference coming up December 5-7th in Washington, D.C.
I love these topics – because they all drive change to our viewpoints, our performance and our organizations.
When you learn about diverse perspectives – especially those driven by the different generations in the workplace – you change the way you view your co-workers and clients. Instead of making them wrong for thinking, feeling or acting differently, you can find ways to bridge your differences and embrace the many similarities that exist between us – especially between Baby Boomers and Millennials!
The entire topic of learning is about change. Once you gain new knowledge and/or new skills, you are forever changed – and for the better. And as the Chinese proverb says, “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.” I am very excited to co-present a session with my good friend Mike Ramos, AICPA Director of CPE and Training to explore the evolution of learning in firms and discuss how investments in learning are paying off significantly for those progressive firms making them.
Most especially, I’m looking forward to co-presenting with my long-time client and friend, Erik Asgeirsson, CEO of CPA2Biz, and a panel of progressive young practitioners on the subject of how to really accomplish something coming out of the Digital CPA Conference. In this session, we’ll discuss how these practitioners have taken big ideas related to the digital frontier, implemented them in their practices, driving change and enhanced performance as a result. I hope you’ll join us for this end-of-conference session that will help you develop a practical 90-day implementation plan that is sure to make a difference for you and for your firm.
CPA.CITP, CGMA, President & CEO, BMRG, LLC.
NEW YORK (Sept. 24, 2012) –Your clients and prospects WANT you on their team, providing them with the ongoing Outsourced Controller, CFO, transaction processing and back-office support services they need to not only compete but win in today’s challenging business environment. As Client Accounting Service (CAS) providers, CPA firms have access to web-based accounting and integrated technology solutions that give you the unprecedented ability to provide clients with these services in a real-time, collaborative environment. So how do you approach this in a way that will “wow” your clients and create a winning formula for success for your firm? The following are just a few of the things you’ll want to address as you build your CAS practice:
Client Needs Assessment
A Client Needs Assessment can be the key to building highly profitable client engagements. This Assessment follows the initial prospect qualification process, and is ideally structured as a short-term, required project that is completed before a firm agrees to provide long term Client Accounting Services (CAS). Using a standardized series of questions and analytics, you’ll gather information about the current pain points the client has and their existing processes and procedures. This becomes your “before” section of your report. You’ll then create the “after” section of your report, showing the client how the integrated technology solutions, workflows and best practices you provide can help them increase efficiencies, save money, and gain access to their most critical business information in a streamlined “dashboard” environment, from anywhere. As importantly, you’ll have the granular information you need about the client to determine the appropriate long term scope and pricing model for the engagement, so that you avoid jumping in with limited knowledge and encountering potentially unwelcome surprises.
Providing ongoing accounting services to clients means that you and your team are working “in the trenches” with your clients every day. It also means that you will be providing your clients with financial reports and other documents they need to make informed business decisions, interact with 3rd parties such as banks, insurance companies, attorneys, etc., and measure their business performance. How can you ensure that you are compliant with the most recent SOC report requirements, that you and your client both have a clear and documented understanding of the scope and limitations of your relationship? A well-documented Engagement Letter is critical to accomplishing this and much more. When combined with a Service Level Agreement that gives your client a clear understanding of how the engagement will be staffed, scheduled and what you will need the client to provide on an ongoing basis to ensure successful collaboration and communication, you are laying the best foundation for a successful long-term relationship.
A firm may have a well-documented Business Plan, a Marketing Plan that seems to guarantee success, and a well-known brand. Successfully “fulfilling the promise” requires the most important asset of all – top performing staff. In today’s market the most qualified and motivated hires expect to be compensated for performance; they want to have clear opportunities for development and advancement; flexible work arrangements are increasingly important; and they want to be both inspired and appreciated by their managers. Ensuring that your firm is an “employer of choice” for top talent will most often mean the difference between a thriving, profitable firm and one that struggles to succeed.
NEW YORK (Sept. 7, 2012) –Many firms are taking advantage of the advancements in cloud technology to transform their client accounting service practices and offer higher value, outsourced CFO services to their clients. However, one of the biggest struggles we see for firms is pricing. Their natural instinct is to take the traditional model of rate times hour and try to apply it in this new environment. The problem is that model just doesn’t work here. As you gain efficiencies with web technologies, you’ll actually spend less time on transactional processing. More of your time will go towards true business advisory services and in an hourly billing model; you’ll likely find yourself losing money.
Value should be determined by the client, not by the hours invested in the project. Firms need to step outside their comfort zone and force themselves to think more like entrepreneurs. What would it cost the client to hire employees to perform these services internally? What value will the client recognize from leveraging the firm’s technology platform and existing processes? Thinking this way is not easy for CPA’s. That is why many firms have hired someone with value creation skills to be responsible for pricing. This person should also be placed in conversations with clients prior to delivery of services to carefully define scope and terms of the engagement. Getting all this out in the open up front helps you maintain leverage. In the old model, you give up all your leverage by naming your price after you’ve done all the work.
Change orders should also be an important part of pricing strategy. When the engagement goes beyond what was outlined in the initial scope, change orders offer both protection and opportunities for additional work. Finding these additional opportunities requires conversations with the client and discussing their dangers, opportunities and strengths. This involves a different skillset than many accountants have depended on to do the transactional bookkeeping work in the past. Many firms are finding that they need a business analyst to fill this role.
Transitioning client accounting services to the cloud is a huge opportunity for firms across the country with countless benefits. The common mistake though is to jump right to the technology decision when the change management and business process issues are the challenges that need to be addressed up front. Pricing is definitely one of these major issues and I hope you’ll join Jennifer Katrulya and me at the Digital CPA Conference (December 5-7, 2012) in Washington DC for our session on “Pricing Outsourced Accounting Services as a Value-Based Fixed Retainer Fee Model” to learn more.